Monday, March 5, 2012

Italy in California

I've had the pleasure of taking the North American Sommelier Association's Italian Wine Specialist class (no, I am not becoming a sommelier - just expanding my wine education) this weekend and it got me thinking about the Italians who came here and the wine regions they represent.

All the producers here are organic and/or biodynamic certified only. (For a full list, consult, the Consorzio of Cal-Italia site at


There's the heritage Italians, whose ancestors were immigrants:

Asti's Italian Swiss Colony Wines
Piemontese must roll over in their graves, but this place supported thousands of poor immigrants from this northern Italian province.

If you haven't been to visit, go. It's not about the wine that's currently produced - it's about the incredible history that's still quite alive here in the old structures.

(The wine is not organic.)



John Chiarito/Chiarito Vineyards

Chiarito's family is from the south of Italy.

His own small lot winery and vineyards are as authentic old World as you can get - dry farmed, all by hand. Nero d'Avola and Negroamaro are stars. Also does Zin and Petite Syrah as well. (Not certified, but practicing organic.)

• Maria Testa/Testa Vineyards

There is no better way to return to the days of yesteryear (alive and kicking) than to visit Testa, where during the Taste of Redwood Valley event (Father's Day - in June) the Italian grandmothers and great aunts come out to cook polenta and watch their grandson's make BBQ (not too tough or dry).  Testa is dry farmed - as well as certified organic.

Their grapes go into their own wines and those of Horse and Plow (Old Vine Carignan and Old Vine Grenache).

Varietals: Grenache (in Italy this is called Cannonau), Carignane.

Barra of Mendocino

Charlie Barra's family came from Cuneo, in Piemonte, just over the border from France. He loves to drink (and grows/makes) Sangiovese.

Jim Milone/Terra Savia

Jim Milone's family came to Hopland and operated the first winery there before Prohibition. He is a fourth generation vigneron. With Greg Graziano, he started Milano Winery in 1975, the first winery in Hopland after Prohibition. (There were 9 wineries in Mendocino County then - now there are 70+).



Located in Dry Creek, this brave biodynamic Italian wine producer is making Sagrantino, a noble effort.

The wines are too young to know yet.


Bucklin Zinfandel is the most famous and apparently oldest heritage field blend vineyard in the state. It has more than 15 old varietals. Talk about biodiversity - it was even in the wine, in the old days. See for more info - and sample a bottle of the field blend wine.


• Casa Nuestra

The current owners, the Kirkhams, purchased this estate in 1956. It's notable because it has one of the original field blends in it - at least four major varietals are included. It's bottled as Casa Nuestra's Tinto Classico.


This family grows grapes and sells some of their own wines (alas - all French varietals) from the land the family has owned since the 1800s in Oakville.


Then there are those who just love Italian wines and want to grow them here:

Paul Beveridge/Wilridge Winery

Near Yakima, Washington, this Seattle attorney's vineyard grows many Italian varietals (small scale) including Nebbiolo.

Pavi Wines

The Lawsons (he grew up in Napa Wine Co.) in Napa are in love with Italian varietals and doing Pinot Grigio and Dolcetto, the everyday wines of the North, and a Vin Santo. I had the Pinot Grigio last week at the Calistoga Inn on one of those hot, sunny days, sitting out on the terrace, and it was lovely.

If you get a chance in the future to take this class, which is held at Perbacco in SF, I highly recommend it. You will discover, as I did, a lot of great, very affordable wines from Italy that you might want to try - just for the sake of comparison, of course!



Perbacco (restaurant) and Barbacco (enoteca/trattoria)
Perbacco Wine List (oriented toward northern Italian cuisine; no less than 5 Nebbiolos by the glass)
Barbacco Wine List (don't miss the dessert wine made from Nebbiolo and herbs: Chinato - sold by the taste - $15)

Downtown Financial district. Owner is from the Veneto.
Good selection from across Italy.
Tastes (3 oz) available in either Perbacco or Barbacco (as well as glasses, half bottles, etc.)

Ottimista Wine List

Union Street enoteca and restaurant. Pizzas and more. More casual than Barbacco.

SPQR Wine List

Trattoria (usually quite a wait unless you have a reservation).

Flour + Water
Wine List

Rising star, Beard award nominee. Ceci from Biondivino wine shop does the wine list.


Wine List

I can definitely recommend the Moscato d'Albi and the outstanding Chianti Classico (available by the glass) from the Panzano area (the best subzone in the region) in the Golden Bowl of Chianti Classico from Il Modilino di Grace.

Rockridge cafe (informal) with restaurant upstairs (formal). Northern Italian emphasis.

Of course there are a number of wine stores (Biondivino, Italian Wine Merchant, KLWines) and  restaurants with good Italian wine lists.

Rivoli Wine List
Trattoria Corso Wine List (Florentine)

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